Composting 101: a few helpful hints

A beautiful garden is mostly the result of small tasks carried out regularly, like gathering organic matter and recycling it into natural fertilizer. Here are some helpful hints for how to build and maintain your own compost heap.

  • Don't spend money needlessly on a compost container. You can make your compost in an open pile covered with a plastic tarp to prevent leaching during rain, or in a closable container such as an old garbage can with holes cut in it for air circulation. An enclosure made with wire mesh fastened over wooden posts will also do.
  • Locate your compost heap near your garden. That way, carrying garden debris to the heap and compost back for the garden will be that much easier.
  • Instead of one deep compost heap, set up two shallower ones. Once the compost in the first is mature, use it while you build up the second. Then switch to the second while replenishing the first, and so on.
  • To help your compost "cook" nicely, mix one part of green material for nitrogen with three parts of brown material for carbon. Grass clippings, clover, manure and vegetable parings make good greens. For browns use straw, dead leaves, strips of bark or even sawdust.
  • Compost reaches a temperature of 55°C (130°F) as it decomposes – provided it's well-aerated and has the right nitrogen and moisture content. If your compost is cold, turn the edges into the centre every three to five days, mix in some manure or add compost activator. Add soil if it's too wet, or water if it's too dry.
  • Don't compost oil, meat or dairy products – they'll smell, decompose slowly and attract pests. Put these products in the trash or your municipally collected compost (if there's a regular collection in your area).
  • The smaller the ingredients in your compost, the quicker they'll decay. Cut up kitchen scraps or pulverize them in a blender. Shred leaves and garden debris with a shredder or mower, or place them in a garbage bin and chop with a line trimmer.
  • To deter mammalian pests, spray your compost with a scent repellent or household ammonia. To repel flies and insects, soak up excess moisture with an occasional layer of soil or shredded newspaper, limit the amount of added manure, and keep the heap covered.
  • Keep your compost pile moist. Besides water, you can use leftover juice, coffee, tea or vegetable cooking broth.
  • Don't add weeds that have set seed to the compost heap. They may germinate and sprout once you spread the compost on the garden.
  • To improve the air circulation of a compost heap, insert a PVC pipe drilled with holes into the centre of the heap.

Keep these helpful hints in mind to get the most out of your garden composting efforts.

Composting 101: a few helpful hints
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